They take a gap year before college. Maya has no qualms and Riley is just on the wrong side of exhausted so they take a gap year. It's not difficult to decide what to do. They pile into the old Toyota without any questions, Maya with her feet up on the dashboard, Riley's hands at ten and two on the wheel. There's a map lying in the backseat, but for now they just drive. Riley's shoulders relax when they pass the city limits, Maya doesn't comment.
(run away with me, lost souls in revelry. running wild and running free, two kids you and me)
Riley doesn't speak when Maya plugs her iPod into the car, doesn't speak when she hits play on the mix that she created just in case they made a split-second decision to drive halfway across the country. Maya's eyes are half-closed, her hand hanging in the space between their seats, idly counting the number of trees their headlights outline when Riley finally unsticks her lips from her teeth.
"Thank you." It's barely a whisper, and her hands tighten around the steering wheel when she says it, knuckles whitening in the semi-darkness. The moon illuminates her face, and for a moment Maya thinks her best friend looks like she's been running her entire life, away from things that Maya never wants to encounter, never even wants to think about. She wonders if Riley sees these things in the dark, when the line between reality and fantasy is blurred and no one really knows whether it was really just the cat.
"Yeah," she says in response, letting her eyes drift shut. Riley exhales, turns the music up, and drives on.
(let's be alone together, we can stay young forever, singing at the top of our lungs)
They stop for gas at a BP, Riley methodically sliding the pump into the side of the car. Maya goes into the store, grabbing spearmint gum and a box of yoghurt muesli bars on her way to the counter. She gives the cashier her card, figuring this is the kind of thing she's been saving up for anyway. Riley is already in the driver's seat when she gets back, and they drive off once Maya's seatbelt is buckled.
The receipt gets taped to the ceiling of the car, the date written across it in Maya's messy scrawl. Riley glances up at it, blinks once before turning her eyes back to the road. Her hands remain at ten and two, Maya kicks her feet up on the dashboard, the mix plays on. Somewhere between song three and song eight Riley stops the car on the road shoulder, unbuckles her seatbelt, and gets out.
Maya wordlessly slides over to sit in front of the wheel, Riley crosses the front of the car to take her place in the vacated passenger seat. The door slams shut, and Maya presses down on the accelerator.
(and we know that we're headstrong, and our heart's gone, and the timing's never right. but for now let's get away, on a roman holiday)
Riley is asleep. Maya turns the music down, chances a glance at her best friend. Even breathing fills the spaces between the songs, when there was only silence before. Maya's hands rest at five and seven on the wheel, the empty road opening out in front of her. Riley is curled up on the armrest, creases noticeably missing from between her brows. Maya has to resist the urge to reach over and smooth the hair back from her face.
The sun is just setting when Riley wakes up. Maya immediately reaches to turn the music up, a hand on her wrist stops her. She turns to look at her best friend, can't help but smile when she sees that Riley's eyes are the clearest they've been since they left New York. She turns back to the road, moving her hands up to ten and two to show that she's still paying attention.
"I just want to apologise, for everything. The stuff I said, the things I put you through."
Maya doesn't turn back to Riley, pursing her lips as she stares straight ahead. They pass thirteen trees before she replies, and the music still hasn't been turned up.
"I won't say it's alright, because it definitely wasn't, and I think sometimes you forget that just because I don't wear my heart on my sleeve, doesn't mean I don't have feelings. And even if sometimes I'm okay with being your human punching bag, it doesn't mean that I'm okay with it all the time." She pauses here, counts another seven trees before she continues. "But I know this hasn't been easy for either of us, and you're my best friend."
Maya's eyes finally flicker over to Riley, who is twisting her hands in her lap. She reaches over to bop her lightly on the shoulder. "You're my best friend and I'd forgiven you for all that a long time ago."
Twenty one trees, and then-
Maya allows herself a grin at that, and this time when Riley reaches to turn the music up, it doesn't feel like avoidance. It feels like a promise, and it feels like hope.
(lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones, and i will try to fix you)
Maya wakes up to an ache in her spine and the smell of salt in the air. It takes her a second to realize that it's dawn, and another to sit up and squint out the window, eyes widening when she sees the ocean. The music is still playing, and she notices that the keys are still in the ignition. Maya tumbles out onto the sand a fraction of a moment after she realizes that she's alone, taking the keys with her and locking up.
They're parked halfway up the beach, as far as the car could have gone to have any luck in driving back up. Maya shivers and wraps her arms around herself, checking to make sure the door is closed before she looks around. The sea-breeze blows through and she spots a figure huddled on a bench that's situated close to the shore. It's barely six in the morning, Maya doesn't stop to think about who it could be before she makes her way toward it.
Riley is sitting with her knees pulled up to her chest, rocking back and forth silently. Maya sits next to her until she can't feel her legs, and then she stands up and stuffs her cold hands into too-small pockets, gravitating to face Riley, back against the rising sun.
"Look, okay. I don't know what you're feeling, I haven't known in a long time. And I don't know why we're sitting here at an hour in the morning that should not exist, but I do know that nothing will change if you don't just talk to me."
Riley is silent, the sound of waves permeating the atmosphere while Maya breathes and kicks at the ground and allows herself to be angry for once because she has been holding back for too long and god if Riley doesn't just open her damn mouth-
"I don't know either, okay? This is helping, this whole trip, you're helping too, so much, but I still don't know. I don't know what I'm feeling and I don't know how to fix it. "
Riley sounds so angry and so sad that Maya's shoulders slump and she collapses back onto the bench, hands sliding out from her pockets to rest on her lap.
"Maybe we'll find out together?"
"That'll be nice."
"I'm sorry I yelled at you."
"You can yell back if you want to."
"I frankly don't have much to yell about."
"Promise me you'll yell when you need to?"
Riley looks up then, and she smiles and it looks so familiar and so right that Maya almost chokes on the emotions that are spilling out from her heart and into her throat.
"Yeah peaches, I promise."
(i missed your skin when you were east, you clicked your heels and wished for me)
"I like this song."
(and i don't how it gets better than this, you take my hand and drag me headfirst fearless)
Maya finds a firework in the trunk. Really, if you asked her, she wouldn't be able to tell you how it got there, but they're standing in the middle of an empty field and she's holding a box of matches in one hand and the firework in the other and is absolutely ready to set it off.
Riley is jumping from one foot to the other, looking for all the world like she doesn't approve of this idea but she's going to let Maya do it anyway. She looks so real in the moonlight, so much realer than she looked that first night in the car, that Maya almost drops everything in her arms and kisses her right then and there, but that is not tonight's story. Tonight she grins and holds the matches up.
Riley sticks the firework into the ground and Maya lights the match, because her hands are steadier, have been steadier than Riley's for a while now. She lets the flame dance onto the wick, and then Riley's hand is in hers as they backtrack furiously, counting down the seconds in their head. Maya knows they're in sync.
The firework blasts off when they both reach zero, and it blooms in the sky with blue and white and red. Riley's hand tightens around her fingers, and Maya doesn't complain. They leave the stick in the ground, the matchbox beside it.
Riley smiles all the way to the car and Maya counts that as a victory.
(only fools fall for you, only fools, only fools do what i do)
Riley drives for thirteen hours straight without stopping. Maya wakes up to two empty coffee cups and the rising sun. She sits up and rubs the sleep out of her eyes, checks the clock before reaching to turn the music down.
"We're stopping for breakfast."
Riley's hands start to shake but she turns off the road, leading the car down a small path and then parking over gravel in front of a small 24/7 diner.
Maya orders half a dozen pancakes, coffee for herself and hot chocolate for Riley with a generous helping of whipped cream and tiny marshmallows.
They eat in silence, Maya pushing the maple syrup over to her best friend when Riley starts staring stonily down at her pancakes without moving.
Maya hears the sound of quarters rattling and the jukebox coughs to life a few seconds later. It's an old song, but both of them know it. Both of them know it because there have been so many nights, so many that Maya cannot count them, so many nights where they danced around Riley's room and then collapsed on the bed to fall asleep curled up around each other. So many nights where Maya was tempted to tell Riley how she felt but bit her tongue because it was never the right time.
It's still not the right time, and when Maya looks up from her food, Riley is crying.
"You just wanted to drink your coffee and eat your pancakes and I screwed it up because I screw everything up."
"No, it's okay. I'm okay. You're not."
Riley starts sobbing harder and a concerned waitress takes a step in their direction, Maya glares at her and she disappears back into the kitchen.
They sit like that for a while, Maya waiting patiently and Riley crying into her hands. Her pancakes are half-eaten and drizzled with an obscene amount of maple syrup, Maya almost smiles at the sight.
"I'm trying, really hard, to be okay."
"It doesn't have to happen now."
Riley looks up and her eyes are shiny with tears, Maya's heart clenches.
"Everyone keeps saying I'll be okay, and that's part of the reason why I had to leave? It was suffocating. I couldn't breathe. Everyone keeps saying I'll be okay but no one ever tells me it's not immediate."
"Of course it's not, and I know you will be okay but I also know that it doesn't have to happen now. It'll happen when it needs to."
Riley finishes her pancakes and Maya pays for their food. She gets in the driver's seat this time, and turns the music up once the car has been started.
"I love you, you know? So much."
Maya smiles, shows her teeth and sucks in a breath as she turns back onto the road.
"Yeah, I love you too."
(fallen angel, close your eyes, i won't let you fall tonight)
Riley snaps one night, when there are too many receipts stuck to the ceiling to count and Maya is pretending to sleep while she's actually monitoring the steady tightening of her best friend's hands around the steering wheel.
The car rolls to a stop on the side of the road and Riley stumbles out, half-runs toward the middle of the field that they're just driving past and starts yelling at the moon. Maya follows more slowly, pausing to grab the keys and lock up before jogging out to stand next to her.
Riley screams until her throat goes sore and every breath is a painful journey. Maya pulls on her arm and they sit down on the grass, the moon silently appraising them from her perch in the sky.
Maya laughs softly, locking her elbow with Riley's and leaning her head on the other girl's shoulder.
"I'm glad you yelled when you needed to."
"Thanks for telling me it's okay to yell."
"Keeping things bottled up is unhealthy."
Riley murmurs her assent, rubs the pads of her fingers over the scars on Maya's knuckles.
"You would know."
Maya sighs and closes her eyes, tilting her head up to feel the breeze that's blowing through.
"You were there for me, let me be here for you."
"I don't think I'm capable of letting you do anything. You're Maya Hart, you do what you want."
"I do what I want in the realms of keeping you happy."
There's a very calculated pause, and then Riley allows all the tension to leave her body, leaning her head on Maya's and tangling their fingers together.
"That is very good to hear."
The conversation doesn't feel like it's over but Maya lets it go, breathes in the cool spring air and lets the silence wash over them.
(let's go for a walk down easy street, where you can be reborn. kiss me on the mouth and set me free, but please don't bite)
Maya counts a hundred and thirty trees, they stop in a small town in the middle of nowhere. It's a tight-knit community, everyone seems to know each other. Riley takes a deep breath when she steps out of the car, Maya grabs her iPod and follows.
They end up in the library, it's small and doesn't have a huge collection but the librarian is a kind old lady who smiles at them when they walk in and doesn't complain when they spend the better part of the day sitting in the red armchairs that flank the entrance.
Maya reads a set of Grimm Brother's fairytales while Riley cycles through all the novels in the children's section, finishing one every half an hour. The librarian thanks them when they return the books to their original spots on their shelves, wishes them a good evening and hopes they enjoy their date.
Maya halts, opens her mouth to correct her when Riley tangles their fingers together, drags her toward the exit.
"Thank you, have a nice evening."
They're standing on the street before Maya can make sense of what just happened. Riley tugs determinedly on her hand and they walk toward the park, sitting down underneath a large oak tree.
There's a playground directly in front of them, a boy is working his way across the monkey bars and his friends cheer him on, whooping in congratulations when he makes it to the other end unscathed.
Riley's fingers are still tangled in hers and Maya doesn't know whether she should snatch her hand back and run as fast as possible in the opposite direction or hold on tight and never let go.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking, because there's a lot of space to think out here, and I need to know how to be okay again."
Maya keeps her mouth shut, lets Riley collects her thoughts.
"You, you have helped me through so much, ever since we were kids. You've somehow always been there, and now here we are and you're holding my hand and I can't help but think that I love you. Really, truly, more-than-best-friends love you."
One of the other kids is attempting the monkey bars, everyone else congregates at the other end and starts to cheer her on.
"I am more okay now than I've ever been, sitting here with you, so I guess, when that lady thought we were dating, I wanted to think we were dating too."
Maya's iPod sits in her jacket pocket and she can feel the weight of it as she shifts, sitting up so that she can look Riley in the eye.
"I've always loved you."
Riley kisses her as the sun sets, tasting of spearmint and vanilla. Maya smiles against her lips.
(and california never felt like home to me until i had you on the open road)
They unofficially officially decide to go home. It happens at the beginning of fall, when the last song clicks on and Riley starts to sing. Maya shoves the packet of spearmint gum that she's fiddling with back into the little compartment underneath the radio.
Riley's shoulders don't tense when they turn onto the road that'll bring them back to New York. Maya smiles.
Riley's hands rest loosely at ten and two on the wheel, Maya's feet are on the dashboard, and the ceiling of the car is covered with receipts, flapping in the wind that's blowing in from the open windows. The song finishes, Maya closes her eyes against the glare of the setting sun as she waits for an answer.
Riley exhales in a cloud of spearmint, turns the music up, and drives on.